All about adaptations: speaking and writing tasks to have fun with adaptations

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This week we have been looking at various aspects of adapatations. This time we take a more practical approach and share some ideas on using and creating adaptations in the language class.

Exploring differences: from page to screen

Your students have probably seen most of the major adapatations of literary classics either on film or TV. Recent hits include the Sherlock stories, Anne of Green Gables, the Jane Austen film adaptations, the Dickens classics from Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, and then there are the Jack London stories, and Gulliver or Robinson Crusoe.

In your language classes you can explore these film adaptations and build guided discussions around them. First, select a scene which you can easily access both in the text and in the film adaptation. Then, follow our three-step approach, which can work with any of the scenes and films you select.

  1. Get your students to describe what the text says about the plot, the setting and the characters in the selected scene.
  2. Then, get them to explain how they imagine this person, place or story. Ask them to explain how they would feel in the company of the character, what they would see in the setting of the story. This way they can distinguish between what is written on the page and they imagine based on this input.
  3. Finally, ask them to watch a scene with the character in the given setting.  Your students should recognize how the same things (characters, setting, plot elements) are represented in the film.

When you are talking about films, it’s important to have some technical focus points to describe the language of films. Here is a list of technical aspects of them you can discuss.

  • Use of space
  • Use of colours, lighting
  • Soundtrack, sounds and voice-over
  • Camera angles, camera movement, point of view (you can use a projector and a small camera to show some of these)
    • Close-up
    • Mid-shot
    • Long-shot
    • Panning shot: the camera is fixed but the lens moves across a scene, for example a landscape
  • Flashback, foreshadowing
  • Special effects

After having gone through all these steps of describing the audio-visual features of the film scene, you can do a more complex analysis. This is when you can turn to a more metaphorical, symbolic understanding of the selected scene.

  • Discuss if your students see any special reason for choosing a certain building or landscape in the film. Do these have any symbolic meaning?
  • Then, talk about how the characters are portrayed. What are they wearing? How are they talking?
  • It is also important what camera angles are used in certain scenes. Where is the viewer positioned through the camera angles? What are the relationships between the characters in the scene? What is the director trying to convey through angle choice?
  • Does the director make use of movement in the scenes? Is it a slow- or a fast-paced film?
  • Can you notice the symbolic application of colours and signs in the scene?

In some cases the film recreates a similar atmosphere as the film, and it remains true to the original text. When you cannot find striking differences between the novel and the film, – for example in the case of the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – it might be more difficult for less experienced readers and learners to carry out an analysis. When you select a film which is true to the original text, you can rely on the similarities and maybe focus more on how your students imagined the scene based on the input from the novel. When the differences are significant, for example in the case of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary or Emma and Clueless, it might be easier to spot differences and talk about them.

If you’d like to have more speaking activity ideas, download our worksheets and vocabulary sheet which will help your students talk more about films at a B1 level and above.

Rewrite a scene

This is a fun task which does not demand too much preparation. You can select a scene from a story you are reading either in the original  or as a graded reader. Then, ask your students to change the setting and the time of the scene, and make changes. They can try to make changes which place the scene in a familiar and contemporary setting.

You can find detailed desciptions of writing tasks to play more with adaptations. Click on the links below to get the task sheets.

Check out some lessons plans which are based on novels and their film adaptations:

Read these interviews with Frances Mariani and Jennifer Gascoigne about writing adaptations:

Check out the Helbling Readers Classics series for great titles:

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